SHERWOOD, Ark. (KTHV) -- Sherwood is growing, and there is a need for a city planner. But how to add one is causing multiple fights between members of the city government and the people.
The city council took up two issues that resulted in strong opposition from residents during Monday night’s meeting. First was a vote to split the Engineering, Permits, and Planning Department in two, which passed after several revisions to the ordinance’s language; then came a discussion of a proposal to give the council full authority to write or amend the job descriptions of all current and future city employees.
According to Councilwoman Mary Jo Heye, who proposed both ordinances, Sherwood has attempted for several months to find a way to hire a city planner. With the city having grown to more than 30,000 people, she said, the need is clear for a person with expertise in city planning. Currently, the task belongs to the head of Engineering, Permits, and Planning.
The council agreed Monday night to waive the typical rules, in which a proposed ordinance must be read during three different meetings, and vote on the proposal, which drew the ire of many in the audience.
“Are you creating a position for someone standing in the shadows that may or may not be to the benefit of the city?” asked Linda Gunn. “But I’ve been told no, so…”
Several council members argued with each other over whether or not the city planner would be hired at the level of a department head, or whether that person should be a member of the Engineering, Planning, and Permits Department. Some suggested that, since it was proposed that the city planner would report directly to the mayor, s/he must be a department head.
“I want to know, where are we getting this money from,” Leslie Durbin asked the council, “when our police department hasn’t had a raise in 10 years?”
Many people accuse Heye of holding a grudge against the current head of Engineering, Permits, and Planning and using this ordinance as a form of punishment. Heye claimed that was not the case. “There’s been a lot said, in terms of [rumors] out there,” she acknowledged. “We are not trying to eliminate the City Engineer as a department head.”
Just as divisive was the proposed ordinance to grant the city council full authority to review, write, and amend job descriptions for existing and future city employees. Several of the same residents spoke against this plan, saying that writing job descriptions is an administrative task and not something for the city’s legislative branch to handle.
“With our vote, we have asked the mayor to manage the day-to-day operations of the city,” one woman stated, “including selecting a Human Resources department that is already tasked with setting job titles and responsibilities.”
“Do you have incompetent department heads and supervisors in the City of Sherwood?” Gunn asked the council. “I don’t think so!”
Gunn and others mentioned the potential for council members to abuse this power. Suppose, they argued, that a code enforcement officer wrote a citation to a council member for not maintaining their property, or a police officer wrote a council member a speeding ticket. With the ability to change an employee’s job description, a council member could either threaten a city employee as a way to avoid following the law, or punish the employee who held him/her accountable.
Heye argued that this power was already granted to city councils through state statute, but that some department heads chose not to give the council the authority and respect its members deserve. Since the council manages the budget and has the ultimate responsibility for how tax dollars are spent, she said, it should have oversight of what city employees are paid to do.
“We, like it or not, folks, and if you want to vote us out of office, then that is every bit your right. However, we have been (elected),” Heye said, before the crowd’s applause cut her off.
City Attorney Stephen Cobb told the council he was worried that the ordinance’s wording might open the city up to a lawsuit. The ordinance was not voted on Monday night, and likely will not be for another two months.